MAN ON A MISSION: Ambulance service Paramedic Michael Smith, who regularly flies missions for the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Hel
MAN ON A MISSION: Ambulance service Paramedic Michael Smith, who regularly flies missions for the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Hel

Lismore helibase gets permanent paramedic

By Alex Easton

A PARAMEDIC has been permanently stationed at the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter base in Lismore in a bid to speed up the helicopter's response times.

The new position follows the handing down of findings last October of an inquest into the deaths of seven men, including two from the Northern Rivers, in forestry industry accidents between 2000 and 2002.

In her findings, Senior Deputy State Coroner Jacqueline Milledge recommended the NSW Ambulance Service station a 24-hour paramedic crew at the helicopter base and give more weight to the calls of senior local ambulance officers when they called for the rescue helicopter to be immediately dispatched to an accident.

The second recommendation, one of many made by Ms Milledge, followed complaints at the inquest by an ambulance officer that calls for the helicopter to be sent to a forestry accident near Woodburn were rejected because ambulance officers had not yet reached the scene to assess the injured man. That man, Graham Edward Newton, of Goolmangar, later died.

However, a NSW Ambulance spokesman said the new move to put a paramedic at the helicopter base involved only one officer between the hours of 8am and 6pm on a trial basis. It has no plans to station a 24-hour crew of paramedics at the base.

The service has also rejected Ms Milledge's recommendation that the advice of senior ambulance officers be given more weight.

Instead, the service has just begun another trial, stationing a senior paramedic at its Medical Retrieval Unit dispatch centre, who would have the authority to order a helicopter into the air, regardless of whether ambulance officers were at the scene.

In a statement by the helicopter service welcoming the appointment of a paramedic to the base, Northern Rivers Ambulance Service assistant operations manager Glen Eady said the new system had already made a difference.

"When the helicopter was previously tasked for a mission, two paramedics drove to the base while the helicopter crew prepared for take-off," he said. "With a paramedic on duty at the helibase, the rescue helicopter can now lift off immediately if someone is in imminent danger. Those extra few minutes can make a vital difference."



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